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T.W. Paterson: Hearing is believing? A real Island ghost story

Was it a ghost train that T.W. Paterson heard that day in the woods in Saanich?  - [submitted photo]
Was it a ghost train that T.W. Paterson heard that day in the woods in Saanich?
— image credit: [submitted photo]

Before I could say, “Al, did you hear that?!” he blurted, “Tom, did you hear that?!”

 

Okay, staff reporter Robert Barron had his fun in Friday’s Citizen pulling your legs with his cock-and-bull tales of ghostly doings in the old Stone/Butter Church. Sure, Robert. And Chief Tzouhalem the Cowichan war chief (and murderer and bluebeard) is still wandering about his Mount Tzouhalem redoubt of old? Uh huh.

Oh, let’s not forget the headless woman who reportedly perambules Mount Sicker townsite, victim of her jealous, blade-wielding husband! If RB really believes this stuff I’d love to discuss with him some waterfront real estate that’s for sale...

Enough of this blarney, let’s get down to a real ghost story, this one involving a train. But first I have to set the stage on two points:

Let’s start with my burgeoning journalistic career while freelancing for what was then The Daily Colonist. An article on Cadboro Bay’s legendary Mystic Spring drew a response from a lady who claimed to live on the very site of the ancient maple tree in question and that her house was haunted. Did I want to interview her?

I guess I did; I was off with notebook and camera in hand. But I never wrote about what she proceeded to tell me that morning. Why?

Because she struck me as being too theatrical, as being too, the word still comes to mind, flaky. In short, I didn’t believe a word she said. I’m supposed to be a journalist and a historian, I’m supposed to write about real events and real people (RB, take note) not fiction.

But she did make me stop and think about this. What of all those other people who claim to have seen ghosts, UFOs, Sasquatches, etc.? Were they all drunk, deluded or on drugs? Did I have the right to simply dismiss them all as crackpots? (Had I, in fact, been fair to the lady mentioned?) I decided that I couldn’t be so arbitrary. But what to do when another questionable interview came along and, without any tangible evidence, all they had to offer me was their story?

My answer was to base my judgement upon the person being interviewed. Did they come across as sincere and intelligent? If they had nothing tangible to show me but they gave me no real reason to question their veracity, indeed their integrity, I’d report their version of events verbatim and leave it to readers to make their own judgement as to their credibility. That’s the key word here: credibility.

Now to my train story. Having grown up immediately beside the CNR tracks in Saanich while they were still running steam engines, I know what the whistle of a full-size steam locomotive sounds like. It isn’t to be confused with the shriller notes of the small locies they run at the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre which are, comparatively speaking, more like tin whistles. In short, there’s a distinct difference between the basso-profundo whistle of a large locomotive and the soprano of a small engine.

Several years ago I and two friends were bushwhacking up-Island and had parked on a logging road which had originally been the mainline when the area was first logged by rail in the ’20s and ’30s. We were miles from the highway and the E&N which was still running then. It being a Sunday, the Dayliner would have been in service but, by mid-afternoon, it would have already passed by on its return to Victoria. And, as I had a key to the gate, there was no reason to think that anyone else was in the bush with us that afternoon, nor had we seen signs of anyone else.

Al and I were standing by the truck, beside the road that once had been a railway grade, Jennifer was rousting about in the trees behind us. That’s when I heard it, as clear as day: the drawn-out, high-pitched whistle of a steam engine, such as a small locie or a donkey engine would make.

Before I could say, “Al, did you hear that?!” he blurted, “Tom, did you hear that?!”

At which point Jennifer ran out of the bush: “Did you hear that?!”

A steam whistle deep in the woods on a clear, dry afternoon up-Island? It certainly wasn’t the Dayliner (which is a diesel, anyway). Was I mistaken? Did I imagine it? If so, what about Al and Jennifer? Did we all imagine a steam whistle, which is what we excitedly agreed that we’d heard? Or does a ghostly logging train still go about its rounds in that quiet neck of the woods?

Okay, it’s not the greatest ghost story you’ve ever read (nor the greatest that I’ve ever written) but it’s one of my few personal experiences with the so-called paranormal. Remember, it all comes down to credibility. And you all know that you can trust me, right? Now: about those waterfront lots I mentioned...

www.twpaterson.com

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